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U.S. Supreme Court decision ignited grassroots effort to amend the Constitution

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In the fight over corporate influence in politics, one group is hoping the voice of the people can trump the allure of money.

Move to Amend South Central Indiana is part of a national movement pushing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to restrict the cash flowing into elections from corporations and super PACs. Their goal is to pass an amendment that would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which turned on the spigot of corporate spending.

Bloomington resident James Allison and his wife, former Bloomington mayor Tomi Allison, founded Move to Amend South Central Indiana. They have been speaking out against undue corporate influence for years, but after Citizens United v. Federal Election Commision, 588 U.S. 310 (2010), interest in their presentations and research spiked.
 

citizenunited-15col.jpg Move to Amend South Central Indiana held a rally Jan. 18 to observe the third anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. About 50 people attended the rally, which took place at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Indianapolis. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

James Allison traces the rise of political spending to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 118 U.S. 394 (1886). In particular, he pointed to the headnote, written by the court reporter, which he said has been “fraudulently cited” as the basis of corporations getting the rights of individuals.

Passing an amendment can take years, but James Allison said MTA members are willing to work as long as necessary. They believe petitions with millions of signatures and resolutions passed by municipal governments will sway Congress into action.

“This is how serious we are about this,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Cleaning messy rules

The fight is arising over Citizens United, in which the court ruled political spending is protected speech and therefore the government cannot prevent corporations and unions from giving money to either support or denounce candidates seeking office. These organizations are restricted from contributing directly to a candidate’s campaign but can try to influence the public by other means.

Citizens United did not usher in the era of corporate spending in politics, it just made it easier, according to Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, associate dean for academic affairs and professor at Notre Dame Law School.

Prior to the landmark decision, the rules for political contributions were very complicated and usually required sophisticated legal help to maneuver. A violation could have led to a federal felony charge.

Citizens United made contributing much cleaner for corporations and unions by establishing clear rules of what is and is not permitted. The psychological effect of the decision was significant, Mayer said. No longer did corporations and unions have to be nervous about making a political contribution.

Outside corporations and unions, the decision had a different kind of psychological effect. Many voters fear the money that could now flow into politics will diminish the power of people in favor of faceless entities.

Shortly after the ruling was handed down in January 2010, Move to Amend was founded. The nonprofit now has more than 150 local affiliates and endorsements from several thousand additional groups, according to David Cobb, national spokesman for MTA.

As its name suggests, the mission of the organization is to amend the Constitution. On its website, MTA has posted its proposed amendment. In broad terms, the amendment states a corporation is not a person and therefore is not entitled to the constitutionally protected rights of natural persons; and money spent to influence elections is not speech subject to the freedom protected under the First Amendment.

To remedy the problems induced by Citizens United, the Constitution has to be amended, Cobb said. Any federal law limiting corporate political donations could be overturned by the courts with no chance to appeal.

The judicial branch is an unelected, unaccountable body, Cobb argues, so it is not the appropriate role of the court to create new policy. That refrain against judicial activism is likely responsible for the group’s appeal to individuals all over the political spectrum.

“We have Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians – all part of a coalition of people who don’t agree on a lot but do agree corporations do not have constitutional rights and money is not speech,” Cobb said.

Scandal likely coming

Move to Amend has a simple strategy to reach its goal: Run a grassroots campaign by getting local municipalities to pass resolutions supporting the amendment which, they believe, will pressure Congress into action. To date, more than 450 city and county governments across the country, as well as a handful of states, have adopted resolutions advocating for the amendment.

Currently, the Bloomington City Council is the only government body in Indiana to have passed such a resolution, according to the MTA website.

Move to Amend South Central Indiana is now working to raise awareness of the amendment so other Hoosier cities and towns will follow Bloomington. In conjunction with the outreach effort, the group held a rally Jan. 18 of about 50 people at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and United States Courthouse to mark the third anniversary of the Citizens United decision.

At the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, professor of law Daniel Conkle harbors serious concerns about Move to Amend’s proposed language. Among the problems he pointed to was the removal of due process rights for corporations. If, for example, the government wants to build a road that transects a company’s property, under this amendment, the government could take the land without giving any compensation.

“They’ve written an amendment that seemingly is way too broad and goes beyond concerns expressed by the Citizens United decision itself,” he said. “I think there’s no chance in the world this amendment will be ratified.”

However, Move to Amend notes the language is only a suggestion. Cobb explained a constitutional response to Citizens United is a political question that is best decided in the political process. Should any amendment offered the Congress fall short, then the public can hold the elected officials accountable.

Also working to influence Congress, but in the opposite direction, is the Club for Growth, a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)4 organization led by former Indiana 2nd Congressional District Representative Chris Chocola.

Corporations and unions may have benefited from Citizens United, but advocacy groups like Club for Growth got a boost from SpeechNow.org, et al. v. Federal Election Commission, 599 F.3d 686 (D.C. Cir. 2010). Building on Citizens United, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that contributions from independent political organizations going directly to endorse or oppose candidates for federal office cannot be limited.

This decision opened the door for the creation of super PACs and Club for Growth led the way by establishing the first one, Club for Growth Action. During the 2012 election, Club for Growth Action collected and spent about $20 million.

Through the super PAC, Club for Growth is “able to receive more money because people want to participate in democracy,” said Barney Keller, spokesman for the Club for Growth. “Super PACs allow them to pool their money and have influence.”

In fact, Club for Growth is in favor of removing all limits on political spending. Keller called campaign contributions “one of the purest forms of speech” and compared government rules restricting donations to tyranny.

The flow of money into politics is unlikely to decline unless Congress reigns in contributions or requires substantial disclosure of campaign donors. Capitol Hill did enact legislation clamping down on political contributions and spending in the 1970s after Watergate, the abuse of campaign dollars that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Although an incident would not have to be on the scale of Watergate, Mayer thinks it will take some kind of wrongdoing to spur Congress to act.

“I think that with the current make up of Congress,” Mayer said, “there’s not going to be any federal law (addressing contributions) until there is a significant scandal, and there most certainly will be.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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